"“As a stranger, you should not approach a place with two hearts. Do not devalue an area, keep your heart open.” "
It was a cool evening in late December, and Herguna and I had just pulled away from Krokodil’s village. We’d spent the past four days talking to the Himba living in four communities near Serra Cafema. I dropped my camera bag on the seat beside me, tucked my notebook away and took a deep breath, one of those breaths that upon exhaling releases days of anticipation, of asking questions and framing images while trying to get to the essence of what it means to be a Himba in this place at this time.
I have always loved these times in the bush, when the light fades and it is too late to take another photograph, when you stop looking through a single prism and embrace a place with all your senses.
That was all it took. In that moment, everything that I had absorbed that was spoken and unspoken came into focus.
I grabbed my notebook, and while Herguna drove across the dunes, I wrote the introduction to Stories from the Edge of the Earth – A Reflection of Himba Life.
Now, six months later, I was back on my way to Krokodil’s village with a copy of the finished book in my backpack.
It was a stunning morning. The fog had lifted late, revealing moisture streaked dunes and glistening rocks. I was with my son, Kimber, and Roswitha, a dear friend from the US who, despite the floods and the “temporary” camp at Serra Cafema, had made the journey to Cafema, because what she longed to experience wasn’t the luxury lodge – it was the space, the people, the connection to the earth; all those elements I had tried to capture in the book.
We approached the village slowly, with respect, and then, after a brief period of uncertainty, with zeal. Stories were told, milk was churned, women smoked, babies nursed, children played with abandone, crawling all over Kimber, who spun them around until they all fell, laughing, into a heap.
Then, at Roswitha’s urging, I shyly pulled a copy of the book out and shared it with the Himba who, months ago, had so generously shared their lives with me.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. But as they turned the pages and recognised the faces of their friends, their families, themselves, they pointed and laughed and rushed to turn another page. Lefius, our guide on this trip, translated the words from English to Otjiherero, while they nodded, giggled and kept turning the pages.
The book was true to them, and that was all I ever wanted it to be.
I was lucky to have had the opportunity to write this book, to share the creative process with Herunga, Ketji, Carli, Ilana, Ulrike and Karen from Wilderness Safaris, and I was honoured when Margie agreed to write the foreword.
Thanks to Alexandra at Wilderness Safaris in Windhoek, who shared the vision that this book was the community’s, not Wilderness Safaris’, and not mine, and so therefore, the community should benefit from the book. Proceeds from the sale of each copy of the book will go to Children in the Wilderness and the Marienfluss School.
That’s the immediate benefit, that and the laughter that erupted when they saw the book.
I am very proud of these outcomes, but more than that, I am proud to know that I was a tiny part of conserving the past, of a capturing a moment in time in a culture that, like ours, is changing. I hope that this book holds memories, not only my own, but perhaps yours, and the Himba’s too.
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